New pandemic guidance on schools and vulnerable residents
New Welsh Government guidance has been issued for residents of Bridgend County Borough who are classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, and on how children could begin returning to school after the February half-term.
First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed that while alert level four lockdown restrictions will remain in place in Wales for the next three weeks, plans are in place that will enable primary-age pupils to return to school as long as coronavirus rates continue to fall.
Any return to primary school will be undertaken in a planned, phased and flexible way from 22 February. Students who are studying vocational qualifications will also be prioritised as part of a phased return to colleges.
Announcing the new guidance, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We need to keep the lockdown restrictions in place for a little while longer to help us bring rates of the virus down further. If we can do this, we will create the headroom we need to get children back to school after half term – starting with the youngest at primary schools.
“We will work with teachers, colleges, local authorities to plan for the safe return of children to school over the next couple of weeks and keep parents updated.”
Meanwhile, existing advice for people classed as clinically extremely vulnerable to not attend work or school outside the home has been extended to 31 March following a review by the chief medical officer.
The new advice follows concerns around the continuing high incidence of coronavirus throughout the region, and the impact of emerging new viral strains.
New letters will be issued to people who have been included on the Welsh Government’s shielding list, and you can read a full statement from Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services, at the Welsh Government website.
The Leader, Cllr Huw David said: “It has been encouraging to see that across Wales, rates of coronavirus have fallen below 200 cases per 100,000 people for the first time since early November, and that every day, thousands of people are receiving their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“Never the less, we must remain vigilant, and continue to follow the alert level four rules – stay at home as much as possible, work from home wherever we can, keep a two-metre distance from others, wear a face covering in all indoor public places, avoid meeting anyone not in our immediate household or support bubble, and continue to use sanitiser and wash our hands regularly.”
Latest local arrangements for mobile testing and vaccinations
Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board has confirmed that its vaccination and mobile testing centres are expected to remain open in in Bridgend County Borough this weekend in the face of a new Met Office weather warning.
While a previous weather warning resulted in snow and thick ice last weekend and the closure of local facilities, the new alert is not expected to affect the county borough as severely.
The drive-through testing centre at the site of the former Revlon / Cosi factory off Oakwood Drive in Maesteg (CF34 8TS) has been extended until Thursday 4 February and will remain available between 9am-4pm.
The long term walk-through testing facility at the Bowls Hall car park of Bridgend Life Centre in Angel Street, Bridgend (CF31 4AH) will also remain available between 8am to 8pm.
Booking is essential at both facilities, and you can find out more and arrange an appointment by visiting the Welsh Government website or calling 119. People with hearing or speech difficulties can book an appointment by calling 18001119.
Bridgend County Borough’s vaccination centre will also remain available. Latest figures have confirmed that 53,202 people have now received their first shot of the coronavirus vaccine across the region, including more than 14,600 residents of Bridgend County Borough.
Work to vaccinate health and social care frontline workers is ongoing, and the health board is working with GPs to ensure that vulnerable people who are housebound or who may be shielding can receive a vaccination before 14 February.
Mobile vaccination teams have visited all care homes in the county borough, and residents and staff have been assessed.
All care home residents who have been declared medically fit have received their first dose, and plans are in place for the teams to return and vaccinate anyone who was not well enough to receive it the first time around, with vaccination sessions continuing throughout the weekend.
GPs are focusing upon people aged 70 and over, and based on current vaccine supply information, the health board anticipates that up to 25 per cent of this priority group will have received their first dose of the vaccine by Sunday 31 January.
The Leader, Cllr Huw David said: “It remains important for anyone who is experiencing symptoms of coronavirus to make sure they arrange for a free test, either by visiting the mobile facility or by using the longer-term testing site in Bridgend town centre.
“The vaccination programme is continuing to target the most vulnerable and exposed members of the community, and local GP surgeries are contacting people when it is their turn to receive a dose.
“While the forecasted severe weather is unlikely to affect Bridgend County Borough, the health board will be keeping a close eye on the situation, and you can check the Cwm Taf website for more details.
“Don’t forget that you can also check for symptoms of coronavirus by visiting the NHS 111 Wales website, and book an appointment at a local testing facility by going to the Welsh Government website or calling 119.
“If you have hearing or speech difficulties, you can arrange an appointment by calling 18001119.”
Alert level 4 restrictions to remain in place
Alert level 4 lockdown restrictions will remain in place in Wales for the next three weeks, the First Minister confirmed today.
This means everyone must stay at home and work from home wherever possible. And all non-essential retail, hospitality venues, licensed premises and leisure facilities must remain closed.
Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, said that while cases of coronavirus are falling in all parts of Wales they remain too high to consider a relaxation of the restrictions.
He said: “The number of people testing positive is high and the intense pressure on our NHS remains.
“We can all be proud of excellent progress of the vaccination programme in Wales, but there is still a considerable way to go. We must not let the virus re-establish itself by moving to a lower alert level too soon.”
Schools and colleges will continue to provide remote learning until February half term with the intention then that if numbers of coronavirus cases continue to fall primary school pupils return in a “phased and flexible way” from 22 February.
Mr Drakeford said: “This recognises that our youngest learners find it more difficult to learn remotely; the evidence of the long-term impact, particularly for our youngest learners and the scientific evidence on transmission in younger children.
“If there is sufficient headroom, we will bring back small numbers of secondary and college learners at the same time. We are working with schools, post-16 providers and unions to determine how that would be best achieved. Our priority will be vocational learners, including apprentices, who need access to training or workplace environments in order to undertake practical qualifications
“Education provision will continue after half term for vulnerable learners, children of critical workers, and learners undertaking essential exams or assessments and special schools and PRUs will continue to remain open where possible.”
Mr Drakeford said the restrictions will also be amended in Wales to allow a maximum of two people from two different households to exercise together, although they should make every effort to maintain social distancing.
People must still start and finish exercise from their home unless a person needs to travel for health reasons. This means that, for now, if two people are meeting they will need to live nearby each other as travel for exercise is generally not allowed.
Mr Drakeford said: “The restrictions currently provide for support bubbles to be formed to help single people and single parents.
“I recognise people’s relationships and circumstances may change over time and we will amend regulations and guidance to allow for a support bubble to be changed provided both households do not see any other household for a period of 10 days before forming the new support bubble. This should be a last resort as it is safest if we do not change any support bubble we are in.”
The Leader, Cllr Huw David said: “We urge residents to stay at home, work from home if possible, continue to maintain social distancing and wear a face covering where required – and when exercising ensure it is started and finishing from home.
“While it is a very welcome news that the number of coronavirus cases are decreasing and the vaccination programme is progressing well, we know this deadly virus can spread very quickly from person to person.
“Please continue to keep our friends, families and communities as safe as possible.”
Air quality monitoring station installed at Park Street, Bridgend
A new monitoring station has been installed at Park Street, Bridgend, as part of measures to improve air quality in the area.
The automated air quality monitoring system has been installed in the grounds of the Quaker Meeting House in Park Street to provide real-time data that can be used to inform traffic control measures for specific periods.
In January 2019, the local authority officially implemented the county’s first Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) Order in Park Street after data showed nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels were above national air quality limit values. The levels are attributed to inconsistent traffic flows and vehicles queuing on the road.
Shared Regulatory Services (SRS) is producing an action plan to address air quality concerns for the Park Street AQMA on behalf of Bridgend County Borough Council. The plan contains a number of proposed measures that have been developed by the council’s air quality working group, including input from public drop-in sessions.
As part of the measures to improve air quality in the area, a new monitoring station has been installed at Park Street, Bridgend.
The automated air quality monitoring system has been installed in the grounds of the Quaker Meeting House in Park Street, providing real-time data for NO2 and particulate matter.
The data collected can be used to build a clearer understanding for pollutant trends, and to inform the effectiveness of any measure implemented to improve air quality in the area.
To ensure the correct measures are put in place that target inconsistent traffic flow and queuing concerns, the council has appointed external consultants to undertaken transport and air quality detailed assessments to illustrate any benefits for air quality levels.
The detailed assessments consider a package of measures which includes stopping access onto St Leonard’s Road, introducing a junction at the Heol-y-Nant turning, and improving the junction between Park Street, Angel Street and Tondu Road.
SRS, which provides air quality services for Bridgend County Borough Council, will input the findings from the detailed assessments into a final action plan, which is due to be completed in summer 2021, and will be released for public consultation.
Cllr Dhanisha Patel, Cabinet Member for Wellbeing and Future Generations, said: “The new monitoring station provides a thorough 24/7 understanding for air quality in the area as we look to make improvements for residents living within the AQMA.
“The station’s data is displayed on the Welsh Air Quality webpage which provides residents with a chance to view the data captured and see what it means.
“Many thanks to the Quakers for working with Bridgend County Borough Council and SRS to allow this station to be commissioned on their grounds.
“Detailed modelling is now taking place to consider the mitigation measures put forward and an action plan will soon be available, with residents being consulted for their views on it.”
The data for Park Street can be viewed at the Air Quality in Wales website.
A joint statement from the Council and the Wallich Homelessness charity about Brynmenyn Hostel
“Brynmenyn Hostel is provided by Bridgend County Borough Council in partnership with the Wallich homelessness charity. It plays an important role in sheltering people and families who have been made homeless, and enables them to access other services designed to help them get back on their feet and find permanent accommodation.
“While the coronavirus pandemic is in effect, the use of the building has been extended to ensure that nobody has to be homeless during the ongoing crisis.
“This remains in line with the same Welsh Government requirements which have seen hotels, B&Bs and other accommodation brought into use to support people throughout the county borough, and by necessity was implemented very quickly due to the rapid spread of coronavirus.
“As well as regular police patrols in the local area, the hostel has benefitted from a number of recent safety improvements, including increased staffing levels and 24/7 support, while new exterior lighting and an upgraded CCTV system are in the process of being installed.
“We are aware that there was a recent incident inside the hostel, and that attending police made an arrest after the situation escalated. The incident occurred entirely within the premises, and at no time were any local residents involved or at risk.
“We are continuing to work closely alongside South Wales Police, and are offering our full support as they investigate this matter.”